Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Actions to Advance Health Technology

On January 31st, the FCC held an Open Meeting to discuss recent FCC actions to advance health technology. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowksi opened the discussion by reporting that his agency is proud of the recent creation of a new Healthcare Connect Fund with $400 million in annual funding. The funding will help to expand healthcare provider access to broadband especially in rural areas, support telemedicine, and encourage the creation of state and regional broadband healthcare networks.

Other recent FCC actions include allocating spectrum for Medical Body Area Networks which consist of networks of wireless sensors able to transmit data on a patient’s vital health indicators to their doctor or hospital. As reported, the U.S. is the first country to make spectrum available for this specific usage.

In another agency action, the FCC approved an Order that will reform the experimental licensing program by increasing spectrum flexibility for testing new wireless health innovations. This flexible approach will help to speed new wireless health technologies to market.

To address the needs of low income households, fourteen projects were selected to participate in the FCC’s Broadband Adoption Lifeline pilot that authorized $13.8 million to support rural, urban, and suburban projects spanning 21 states and Puerto Rico. The data resulting from the projects will help the FCC structure the Lifeline program to promote the adoption and retention of broadband services by low-income households.

To speed regulatory reviews, last July, the “Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act” reauthorized the FDA’s collection of user fees. The statute includes a requirement for the FCC to participate with HHS and the Office of the National Coordinator and FDA to draft a report outlining strategy and recommendations for a risk-based regulatory framework that will include mobile medical applications.

In another open meeting presentation, Julius Knapp, Chief, of the Office of Engineering and Technology and Linda Oliver, Deputy Chief, Telecommunications Access Policy Division of the Wireline Competition Bureau, discussed how effectively the FCC’s June 2012 mHealth Summit provided direction on how to further develop the adoption of wireless health technology.

The FCC as host of the Summit brought together academia, industry, and government. Attending were senior executives and leaders from health technology companies including established companies, startups, non-profits such as the West Wireless Health Institute , hospital leaders, and government leaders from the FCC, FDA, HHS, VA, CMS, and NIH.

Following the event, participants came together to create an independent mHealth Task Force that collaborated on several policy recommendations presented to the FCC, other federal agencies, and to industry. Overall, the recommendations are to increase interagency collaboration and information-sharing, expand existing programs to encourage mHealth adoption, and to build on government and industry efforts to increase capacity, reliability interoperability and the safety of mHealth technologies.

The FCC’s mHealth Task Force overall goal is to collaborate with federal partners and the private sector to enable mHealth technology to be a routine medical best practice within five years.   So far, the FCC has taken action on 85 percent of the recommendations.

Another recommendation was to develop the hiring process for a permanent Director of Health Care Initiatives to function as the central point of contact to external groups on all health-related issues and work to improving interagency data sharing and cooperation.

Also, the mHealth Task Force seeks to have the FCC consider a Rural Health Care (RHC) program modernization order that would permit networks of hospital and healthcare facilities to jointly apply for RHC Program funds to boost broadband capacity and enable EHRs.

As part of the RHC modernization order, the goal would be to collect richer data on broadband and telehealth applications from the RHC Program participants and this in turn, could target more support for telemedicine.

The January FCC Open Meeting concluded with a telemedicine demonstration presented by the Georgia Telehealth Partnership. The demonstration held both in person and via telehealth included a simulated patient examination with the Coffee Regional Medical Center located in Bacon County, Georgia, a participant in the Rural Health Care Pilot Program.